How (And When) To Change Your Name On An Airline Ticket

As a general rule airlines don’t let you change the name on a ticket. If you could swap names, you could resell tickets, and that would undermine airline pricing strategies that try to charge more for the kind of last minute travel usually purchased by business travelers.

That’s also why airlines started insisting on ID’ing travelers, to make sure their tickets weren’t being resold. The government didn’t impose an airline ID requirement until 1996 as a way of looking like they were ‘doing something’ after the TWA flight 800 accident that some at the time thought might have been terrorism-related.

There are exceptions to this. JetBlue used to allow name changes on tickets for $25. Scandinavian used to allow name changes if you’d sign a form saying the trip was leisure and not business. But airlines have cracked down on their exceptions.

However there are times you need to fix the name on a ticket, and times you need to change the name on a ticket altogether.

Does The Name On My Ticket Need to Match My ID?

Minor misspellings on tickets are common and not usually something to worry about. It’s more important that “Secure Flight information’ which is entered separately matches your travel documents in order to be allowed to fly. However Secure Flight Information can be updated by your airline, even at the check-in gate.

I’ve never seen someone denied boarding because their middle name wasn’t on a ticket or there was a misspelling of a middle name. There is no requirement for an airline ticket to include your middle name, however if your ID includes a middle name that should be included in secure flight information.

It’s possible that a security screener will scrutinize your ticket, notice a difference with your ID (such as a misspelling of your first or last name) and give you a hard time. That’s unlikely, but the government’s document checkers have substantial unchecked authority.

So it makes sense to try to get the airline to fix your name on a ticket. This is something that’s pretty easy to do when the airline you bought the ticket from is the same airline that you’re flying – there are no partner airlines involved.

However if you run into pushback then my general advice is to get to the airport early. If the airport has more than one security line, and you get turned away at the first one, just go through security somewhere else before arguing. You might also get your airline to make a note in your reservation about the mistake, and then the airline might be helpful on the day of travel if you have to escalate things with a TSA supervisor.

I Got Married But Already Booked My Honeymoon Tickets

A name change is actually pretty easy to do when the passenger isn’t changing, the ticket is just being updated to match travel documents. That’s true for small corrections (like a misspelling) and it’s also true when you legally change your name. The airline is going to require documentation, and may charge you a modest fee, but changes are possible.

Where things run into difficulty is when you buy a ticket from one airline, but it involves travel on another airline. That’s common when booking international award travel – you might use United miles to travel on Lufthansa and Thai Airways, or American miles to fly Cathay Pacific. The U.S. carrier can’t just change the name on the ticket on their own, and will often say it’s not possible (though I’ve had it done). It gets complicated because it takes time and manual intervention – an airline’s partner liaison getting in touch with their counterpart at the other airline. Often making that process happen can be a pain, and the results aren’t guaranteed.

If you’re getting married and you’ve already booked honeymoon travel (where this comes up most) the simplest thing, if you’re going to change your name, is to wait until travel is completed to make the change. There’s no requirement to change a name at all, let alone right away.

Changing a name takes time, even just in the case of marriage, since the marriage certificate is needed to update a drivers license and passport. Once you change the name on a passport don’t forget to update your Global Entry, too. This doesn’t require an appointment, but it does require showing up at a Global Entry enrollment center in person.

How American Airlines Handles Name Corrections

American Airlines has a policy – that’s similar at many carriers – to allow name corrections. There are two kinds of corrections – minor and major – and the processes are different for each.

American Airlines offers flexibility for Minor and Major name corrections for wholly unused (001) validated tickets.

Minor name corrections apply to itineraries that consist of American prime and American Eagle flights only and may be corrected in the same PNR. Itineraries ticketed in “R” inventory must follow Major Name Correction Guidelines

Major name corrections apply to itineraries ticketed in “R” inventory, codeshare flight segments on our AA*/oneworld® codeshares or non-oneworld carriers, and require a new PNR as a name correction cannot be made within the same PNR due to GDS limitations.

Here are the American Airlines instructions for travel agents making minor name corrections:

Here are the American Airlines instructions for major name corrections:

There are also instructions (.pdf) for making additional changes after the first correction, and for making changes to the name of an infant traveling without their own seat.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. My wife’s last name is of the form XXXXX-XXXXXXXXX.

    WN’s computers are programmed by idiots who do not allow hyphens in a profile. So WN has my wife as XXXXXX XXXXXXXXX.

    We once almost missed a flight from RIC arguing with a TSA goon about this for 20 minutes.

  2. A TSA agent in Kansas City once told me that they estimate 35% of all tickets compared with passports have a name discrepancy issue, problem, whatever. The blame, problem, issue goes right back to the flyer with damn little help from the airline or governmental agency. I’m old. I have NEVER used my legal first name. Until 2000 or so all my identification (voter ID, driver’s license, insurance cards) was only in my middle name. Then I has hit by a miserable wave of “requirements” and “corrections.” Idiot after idiot will leave off my middle name despite my determined efforts to get it included; one bored “kid” after another will mangle my name his way. This is NOT just a honeymoon problem. Geez.
    It is a lot of tedious ineptitude with no one in charge. If they want the damned name a certain way, why can they not be required to make consistent the three name usage of the passport?

  3. After reading about a passenger on WOW that was denied boarding over not having middle name, which was on her passport, on her ticket I got a little paranoid about an upcoming trip in Singapore Air. I’ve flown internationally a lot with AA and DL having just first/last name (or maybe middle initial) but not EXACTLY matching my passport. Didn’t think it would be a problem but wanted to check. Sent a request to Singapore Air and got a call back (from Singapore so assume my cell bill with reflect that ). They confirmed that they don’t ask for middle name and and along as first and last match my passport I’m good. Hate to be this anal but don’t need something this minor to ruin a trip. Obviously married name changes, hyphenated names or use of middle name (instead of first) are much more likely to cause issues but wanted to confirm I wouldn’t have a problem. Glad to hear that was the case. Never hurts to make sure IMHO

  4. I’ve never seen someone denied boarding because their middle name wasn’t on a ticket or there was a misspelling of a middle name…..
    Obviously you have never flown on vietjet.

  5. Birth certificate has 1st name Laurence. Have always used Lawrence. Passport has to match birth certificate LAU. Credit cards are all LAW and those are difficult to change. So airline accounts are LAU, but I pay with LAW without any problems

  6. Whenever you read something like this, you so easily see the disaster of governments getting intimately involved in private industry.

    Bureaucracy run amok

  7. 10+ years as a supervisor in a major travel agency.

    I can tell you right now this article is full of assumptions and misinformation. Let me clarify:

    1. It DOES state on any airline website, in very clear writing that you name match you passport or travel document EXACTLY. This is even more important when traveling internationally. For Domestic bookings they most of the time could care less, but when it goes international there are many more laws, authorities and countries that legally require this for security reasons.

    2. It is ABSOLUTELY important your name matches your travel document. AKA, if you have first middle last name, you HAVE to put that on your ticket. Letters must match to the T. This is not a case of “overpowered TSA agent” but an actual valid and IMPORTANT security measure. There are hundreds of people name Karen Smith, one of those hundred is wanted my olice for a murder. You put Karen Mary Smith, you differentiate yourself from others. If you show up and you’ve put just your middle name, your left it out or your name doesnt match EXACTLY, that TSA agent or the boarding agents AND the airline are held legally responsibly if you leave the country and could have heavy fines. So consider it next time your arguing with a TSA agent about letting you go because you were too lazy to just get your passport and verify your name matches. They are putting their job on the line everytime they let someone through when thier IDs don’t match.

    3. Airlines DO have a policy for name CORRECTIONS (less that 3 letters) but most of the time, these policy are completely NULL if you have more than 1 carrier on your ticket. This is not because they want to fuck you over. But because of different airlines and different systems. When a modification happens on one airline, such as a name change or correction, the other airlines involved will AUTO CANCEL the ticket for security reasons so the ticket will be completely lost.

    4. For anything more that 3 letters, this is considered a complete CHANGE. And no, updating your TSA info will do jack. I have seen so many people lose tickets and thousands of dollars because of this. Regardless of why the mistake was made or why you need to change it (marriage, divorce, etc).

    5. There is a policy on LEGAL name changes (marriage, etc) but again, alot of cases this is null if you have more than one carrier on your ticket.

    That being said. If you did get through with an error on your ticket before, congratulations. But don’t leave it to chance. Just CHECK YOUR DAMN PASSPORT. And show up the the damn airport in the recommended check in time. They will NOT hold the plane for you no matter how much you paid for your ticket.

  8. Booked ANA F using VS miles. My middle initial was in my VS profile, so on the ANA booking it now shows middle initial tacked on to my first name, like FIRSTNAMEM LASTNAME. Asian carriers seems to often have trouble with middle names since most Asian people typically don’t have them. I’m hoping they don’t give me a hard time, but like you say I’ll be sure to arrive to the airport a little earlier than normal.

  9. I booked a Cathay Pacific ticket with AA miles two years ago. For some reason I had to call Cathay to choose my seat. The agent asked me if I have a middle name, which I do and it’s in my AA profile, but AA only transmitted first and last. Whether true or false, the agent said I wouldn’t have been allowed to board if I had a middle name on my passport but not my ticket.

  10. By the way, I should have finished my story — the agent added my middle name and all was well, but that also meant I never tested the issue of whether there would have been a problem.

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